Oil ekes gains after fall below $ 80, eyes US stocks

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SINGAPORE, Sep 26 (Reuters) Oil prices crept up on Wednesday after three days of losses, with traders looking toward data expected to show a further decline in U.S. crude stocks.

U.S. crude for November delivery edged up 22 cents to .75 a barrel by 0209 GMT, while London Brent crude gained 22 cents to .84 a barrel.

Prices have tumbled since hitting a record high .90 a barrel on Thursday, fuelled by worries over a U.S. Gulf storm that later fizzled, the weakening U.S. dollar, a cut in key U.S. interest rates and a flush of speculative capital.

The safe return of nearly all U.S. Gulf oil production following precautionary closures last week has knocked oil back below , but traders said confirmation of a U.S. crude stock draw in weekly data due on Wednesday could reverse the sell-off.

''It's all up to the inventory data, if stocks continue to draw down then prices will remain bullish,'' said Tony Nunan, Risk Management Executive at Mitsubishi Corp.

A Reuters poll of analysts showed U.S. refiners probably slowed imports of crude oil last week, causing inventories to fall by 2.4 million barrels.

But distillate stocks were seen rising by 1.3 million barrels and gasoline stocks easing by only 100,000 barrels, as the seasonal drop in gasoline demand and autumn refinery maintenance offset some of the bullishness of the crude data.

U.S. retail gasoline demand slipped to a three-month low last week as travel slowed further with the end of the summer vacation, MasterCard Advisors said on Tuesday.

Oil production from the Gulf of Mexico was nearly back to normal after foul weather last weak knocked out the biggest chunk of the region's production in two years. Energy companies were pumping crude at 96 percent of capacity as of 1630 GMT on Tuesday, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said.

But traders continued to keep an eye on weather in the Gulf as the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Karen has formed in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Forecasts did not show the storm hitting operations in the Gulf.

Analysts also remained concerned over supplies from Nigeria, where the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said at the weekend it may resume attacks on the oil industry.

REUTERS SG RK0900

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